David Mazower is the great-grandson of acclaimed Yiddish author and playwright Sholem Asch. Mazower, who was raised and still lives in England, tells of his own background and encounters with Yiddish alongside stories of his great grandfather. Interestingly, on both sides of his family Mazower has strong Yiddish ties. His great grandfather on his father’s side, Max Mazower, was a Bundist active in Vilna at the turn of the 20th Century.
Mazower, who didn’t grow up speaking Yiddish, still has a great sense of the literature and culture through his encounters with those who knew of his great-grandfather as well as through his own personal endeavors. After studying Russian history in college and rediscovering Yiddish through his academic studies, Mazower joined the Jewish Museum in London, where he worked on an exhibition about Yiddish theater in London. The exhibition particularly sparked his interest and drew him more deeply into Yiddish as he met and learned about the many people involved in Yiddish theater in England and additionally his great-grandfather’s work.
Mazower further speaks about his personal “rediscovery” of Asch, recalling going through his grandmother’s collection of Asch’s things. Mazower opens up about Asch, both through a scholarly perspective and through his personal connection and family stories.
He speaks about Asch’s dramatic personality, describing him as “stormy, melancholy, at times the life and soul…” He also recalls stories of Asch being an “appallingly bad driver,” and lights up as he recalls anecdotes such as Asch driving Chagall, as well as an arm wrestling match between Asch and a complete stranger.
Mazower explains the controversies surrounding Sholem Asch and more specifically how they affected Asch, his place within Yiddish literature, and how the accusations personally affected Asch and his family. The interview brings to life a more personal side of Asch, while also shedding light on Mazower’s life experiences relating to his connection to Yiddish, his Jewish identity, and his interests, both Yiddish-related and beyond.
To learn more about the Wexler Oral History Project, visit: www.yiddishbookcenter.org/tell-your-story